Milestone 01

Spains Hall Estate

Initial Project Scoping

Project Summary

Spains Hall Estate is a 2,000-acre estate in Essex which has been integrating environmental land management under its current Estate Manager, Archie Ruggles-Brise. In 2022 the Estate embarked on a 50+ year habitat creation programme and has been generating Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) units for sale to local developers. The Estate plans to generate over 500 BNG units over 100 hectares.

The Estate was part of Natural England’s Biodiversity Net Gain pilot, which gave access to funding and project support including an ecologist to help develop a farm management plan and an external valuer to help with financial planning. The Estate is implementing a variety of interventions to create a diversity of habitat types including ponds, orchards, grasslands and wetlands.

Milestone 1: Initial Project Scoping

Often the initial task is to understand the site(s) you want to use and the land use change needed for nature restoration or creation. This includes considering the goals of the land managers involved, the vision within the wider catchment or neighbouring area, and whether there are permits or planning consent needed for any proposed changes.

At this stage, you can also conduct a high-level assessment to determine which revenue streams can be generated from ecosystem services , e.g. carbon credits, flood reduction cost savings, or biodiversity units, which will be crucial for identifying buyer interest.

Finally, it is useful to have an idea of the costs of the project and potential grant funding that may be available to support initial development.

Milestone 2: Identify and Work with Sellers

Initial ownership of the ecosystem services will belong to the landowners or, in some cases, the tenants of the sites that the project is using. However, these can be passed onto others, such as third-party project developers, with appropriate legal arrangements and compensation. In some cases, there may be a sole seller of the ecosystem services, where the site or landholding is large enough that it delivers the volume of ecosystem services needed to cover the costs of the project and attract buyers.

However, in order to achieve scale and impact, a project will likely involve multiple sellers, such as neighbouring farmers and estate managers. Scale of land is often needed to deliver significant environmental outcomes, and also to attract private finance. Project developers must plan how they initially contact and engage with these sellers going forward, building their wants and needs into the project.

Milestone 3: Baseline and Estimate Ecosystem Services

At this point, you will have understood the vision for the project and identified a particular ecosystem service or set of services to be sold. The next step will be to carry out detailed analysis – baselining each ecosystem service and quantifying what will be able to be delivered from the interventions, as well as planning how to monitor and maintain these interventions. You will need to rely heavily on ecological expertise for this more scientific Milestone.

At this step, standards, verification and accreditation methods will be considered in more depth.

Milestone 4: Identify and Work with Buyers

Based on your earlier market analysis in initial project scoping, you will have identified one or more groups of beneficiaries who may be willing to ‘buy’ or pay for the ecosystem service(s) to be created, restored or maintained. Buyers vary – as do their requirements – but at this step, greater buyer engagement is now needed to develop a deal that channels money towards the nature-positive outcomes that your project wants to deliver.



Milestone 5: Develop Business Case and Financial Model

You’ll have started building your business case and financial model in earlier steps – laying out your project’s vision, the market proposition and estimating costs and income. This step offers a review, in addition to providing details needed to build out the financial model and business case more fully. Both of these key documents will be iterated throughout project development, and will likely be altered during project delivery as new information emerges. These documents are interlinked and, if developed correctly, will ensure your project’s viability and help you with discussions with stakeholders – including sellers, buyers and future investors.

The financial model will also enable you to better understand the type of structure your project may take to attract investment (i.e.a loan, an equity investment, a bond) and what sort of returns you can afford to pay/offer.

Milestone 6: Develop a Governance Structure

A governance structure will inform the way in which the project is run when fully operational and for what purpose. It identifies appropriate decision making processes, who is responsible for what actions, and what controls are in place to make sure that the project is meeting its stated goals, all while abiding by the risk appetite of its engaged stakeholders. The legal entity to host the project will be a key driver in this, and the appropriate choice of entity will be dependent on several factors that are outlined below.

Your governance structure should align with and underpin your business case, as a necessary component of how the project will deliver its environmental outcomes and other strategic targets.

Milestone 7: Identify and Work with Investors

It is important to note that not all projects will need up-front investment, but for those that do, this section provides a framework for thinking around the development of the investment model. This does not constitute financial advice – as the GFI is not licensed to do so. However these considerations are based on the insight offered by project developers and other market stakeholders.

An investor will be a new core stakeholder in your project, and it’s just as important to think of what you require from investors, as much as what they require from you – so that you can build a positive and collaborative relationship with them.

This entails defining the investment ask (in line with the financial model), the strategy for approaching the right investors, and the negotiation of terms that can then be formalised in contract development (Milestone 8).


Milestone 8: Establish Legal Contracts and Closing

When all relevant stakeholders have been engaged and their terms of engagement are clarified as much as possible, this is the time to develop the legal contracts and close the deal. This stage is last because legal fees are expensive, and it is generally advised to determine as much as possible in previous stages before starting to draw up contracts in earnest.

Note: The information in this Milestone does not constitute any form of legal advice but instead serves as practical advice on how to manage engagement with lawyers and the process of contract development.

The Green Finance Institute is not a firm of solicitors or connected in any way with the courts. The information and opinions we provide in this section and across the Toolkit do not address your individual requirements and are for informational purposes only. They do not constitute any form of legal advice. We recommend that appropriate legal advice should be taken from a qualified solicitor before taking or refraining from taking any action.

Community Engagement

Community engagement is highly advisable for any project that aims to sell ecosystem services, to ensure fair outcomes for local communities and the long-term success of the project. Project developers can build connections with local stakeholder groups early on to spot both risks and opportunities.

Policy and Regulation

Project developers and enterprises will need to keep a continuous check on how current and future policy may affect the project, and also opportunities for the project to inform policy. The role of private finance for nature across the UK is being encouraged by the UK government and its devolved administrations, and new rules, standards and markets are being developed.



With many thanks for his time and insight:

Archie Ruggles-Brise, Estate Manager



Date Published: 19/11/2023

Next Milestone

What was Spains Hall Estate’s overarching vision for the land and why did they decide to engage in nature markets?

Archie Ruggles-Brise, Spains Hall Estate’s Manager and 11th generation landowner knew he wanted to achieve long-term financial and environmental resilience on the estate. Looking at the land through the lens of natural capital allowed Ruggles-Brise to identify material risks to the estate and wider landscape, such as soil erosion and lack of habitat connectivity. Ruggles-Brise wanted any natural capital project designed to attract private sector finance, to generate co-benefits for the wider farming business, and did not want to take productive land completely out of agricultural production, though he is also changing the farming system alongside BNG.

Through setting out his vision for the estate, Ruggles-Brise identified some potential interventions he wanted to pursue, such as implementing agroforestry on arable fields and planting and restoring hedges. He then needed to determine where these interventions would be best placed by assessing the condition of the estate’s existing natural capital and ecosystem services.



How did Spains Hall assess what land opportunities would be possible?

Spains Hall Estate worked with Atkins using Environment Agency funding to conduct initial assessments of the estate’s natural capital through soil risk assessments and hydrological modelling. Atkins used open-source data to conduct this initial analysis ahead of the more robust baseline measurement conducted with by ecologist.

The initial assessments were then run through a scenario analysis that was based on the environmental outcomes that the estate wanted to deliver, and modelled to identify what the quantity of change was likely to be. In order to determine which interventions would be best to pursue, the estate conducted an initial review of the market to see which interventions would be best placed to attract private buyers. The estate took part in Natural England’s Biodiversity Net Gain pilot programme, which gave them access to an ecologist to conduct further, ground-truthed baselining and develop a land management plan. (Read more about Spains Hall Estate’s approach to baselining in its Milestone 3 case study).


Why did Spains Hall Estate pursue Biodiversity Net Gain?

For Spains Hall Estate, the choice to pursue BNG was due to a variety of factors. Ruggles-Brise saw habitat improvements as having the potential to deliver broader beneficial impacts on the estate. For instance, recreating wetlands in the right place can support the hydrology of other parts of the farm. With increasing drought events expected in the coming decades, this was viewed as a way to improve the estate’s resilience to climate change.

BNG was also seen as particularly useful for using less pieces of land. Ruggles-Brise wanted natural capital projects to work alongside the farming business, rather than against it. Most of the BNG interventions being considered could be managed through agricultural practices such as grazing, thus keeping them in low level agricultural production and reducing the risk of negative tax implications. The potential income opportunities from BNG were also a key motivator. In the initial assessment, 500 acres were identified as having the potential to generate BNG credits and the prices being mentioned through engagement with the BNG pilot made the projects seem financially viable and worth pursuing.


Image by William Joshua Templeton